Cents surrender second place
For the first time since Oct. 4, the Merritt Centennials find themselves out of second place in the Interior Division of the BCHL.
The West Kelowna Warriors have taken over the second spot in the Interior standings, 10 points back of the Penticton Vees, thanks to a 3-2 double-overtime win against the Centennials on Tuesday night.
The Warriors now have 49 points to Merritt’s 48, although the Cents do have three games in hand on their divisional rivals from the other side of the Connector.
Tuesday’s one-goal West Kelowna victory over Merritt was the Warriors’ fourth in as many games this season between the teams, and the second of the four to be decided in overtime.
The Centennials’ loss came despite Merritt outshooting West Kelowna 38-27 on the night, and 12-4 in the third period of regulation play. Merritt also failed to capitalize on a two-minute man-advantage in the first period of four-on-four overtime, and on a penalty shot awarded to Derek Huisman during five minutes of three-on-three play.
Instead, it was the Warriors who made good during circus time, as rookie Brett Zarazun scored his first BCHL goal at 3:23 of the second overtime period.
At first, it didn’t look like the Cents would take Tuesday’s game to extra innings at all, as they played one of their worst opening periods of the season. Defensive giveaways and poor decisions with the puck led to a pair of West Kelowna goals by David Pope and Brennan Clark before the contest was 20 minutes old.
To add to their woes, the Centennials were forced to play shorthanded for five minutes at the end of the first period and into the second because of defenceman Charlie Donlin’s excessive retaliation to a boarding infraction by the Warriors’ Daniel Gayle.
Donlin wound up getting an instigator, fighting major and a game misconduct.
The fact that Merritt successfully killed the five-minute penalty seemed to give the team new life. At the 7:05 mark of the second period, veteran Richard Sabourin got his team on the board with a point shot that beat West Kelowna netminder Tyler Briggs.
The Cents continued to take the game to the Warriors for the remainder of the second and third periods, and were rewarded with the equalizing goal by Derek Huisman early in the final frame of regulation.
The second-place showdown was a fractious affair from beginning to end. Cents captain Brent Fletcher put the Warriors’ Josh Monk out of the game with a pair of thunderous hits on the end boards.
Despite three powerplay opportunities in the third period, and complete territorial domination, Merritt was unable to notch the go-ahead goal and the teams headed to overtime with second place in their division on the line.
Several golden-goal chances by Cents players — including Huisman’s penalty shot — were turned aside by Briggs, while the Warriors made no mistake on their one good opportunity in OT.
Merritt went 0-for-5 on the powerplay Tuesday night while West Kelowna scored once in five chances with the extra man.
Up next for the Centennials is a three-game road trip to Van-couver Island. Merritt plays in Victoria Friday night, at Cowichan Valley Saturday evening, and in Nanaimo Sunday afternoon. The next home game is Feb. 2.